Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 Chicago Marathon: Stats, Splits, And Lessons Learned

(picture from MarathonFoto)
2013 Chicago Marathon
Personal Performance Review & Analysis
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Chicago, IL

Official Time: 3:14:48
Average Pace: 7:21
Finish: 2,016/39,122 Overall    315/3,577
Avg Heart Rate: Didn't wear monitor
Weight: 172
Calories Burned: 3,792
Pre-Race Health: Perfect, never better for a marathon
Post-Race Health: Good, no issues
Elevation Gain: 86 ft
Elevation Loss: 95 ft
Total Distance Ran: 26.49 miles
Start Temperature: 46 degrees
Finish Temperature: 55 degrees
Sunny/Cloudy: sunny
Wind: 8 NNW
Humidity: 76%

Saturday afternoon at the South end of Millennium Park overlooking beautiful downtown Chicago
     - Strongest core, and lowest weight ever for marathon
Chicago Marathon splits
     - Diet was almost perfect for weeks leading up to race ... no bread/no added sugar
     - Legs were strong and healthy, good strength training helped with fatigue late in race
     - Held goal pace until mile about 22
     - Fought pretty hard the last few miles and came in with BQ time, didn't give up
     - Form was really, really, really good until mile 25
     - Didn't have to stop for potty break, or to walk until mile 24.5
     - Huge confidence building race - with a few tweaks in training, I can improve a lot more

Needs Improvement
     - Tapered a couple of days too long, legs felt healthy but felt like I lost a little fitness
     - Last long run needs to be two weeks out, and not three weeks out
     - Need to do at least one training run at 28 miles, preferably two
     - Race fueling is still minor issue, seem to run out of gas at 24 miles
     - Focus a little more on adductor strengthening, they're the only minor soreness after race

Pre-Race Nutrition
In the weeks leading up to the race, I really change my eating habits like never before ... and I felt better than ever.  It's actually become more of a lifestyle change, because now it just comes naturally and really don't crave the unhealthy stuff, hardly ever.  I had starting eating a lot better a couple of years ago, but I really began introducing even more fruits and veggies into my daily diet, tried eliminate as much gluten as possible (basically wheat-based products), and really cut way back on added sugar.  "Out" were traditional pizza, donuts, and Subway sandwiches.  "In" were steel cut oats, lots and lots and lots of spinach, bananas, quinoa, and popcorn if I wanted a snack.  Overall I just felt a lot better.

I carb loaded a little the two days before the race, but not with wheat ... with mostly steel cut oats and coconut water.  I kinda started a weird thing in my training - I keep a can of dry steel cut oats in my car and snack on them all day ... without water .. or milk ... or anything.  I just eat them dry, kinda like a horse.  It never bothered my stomach, so I just kept doing it.  So during the two days before the run, I just kept those handy, mixed in with my regular meals of spinach and chicken mostly.  I also had some quinoa for breakfast both mornings.

2.35oz Beet It Sport Shots
I'm a believer in the power of beets
Fried Chicken As A Pre-Race Meal???
Well, not hardly ... but almost.  We had dinner on Saturday night before the race at Marcello's Father & Son Italian Restaurant with Coy of First In Philly, and her family.  Apparently there is something called "Broasted Chicken" ... which as best I could tell is basically glorified fried chicken.  Well, I thought I was ordering "ROASTED CHICKEN".  (If the waitress and kitchen followed my blog they would know it's what I eat before almost every marathon ... geeesh!)  So obviously when the greasy piece of delicious heaven showed up at my table ... as tempting as it was, unfortunately I had to send it back.  But who knows, maybe it would have pushed me in those final two miles.

Race Day Fuel
After quite a bit of research into the science behind it, I began using beet juice before long runs during this training cycle.  (read about it here)  By lowering my blood pressure and generating nitric oxide, I found that beet juice, or Beet It concentrated beet juice shots, made me feel like I could take much deeper breaths later into the race when your breathing typically gets short and choppy.  About 2-3 hours after I drink the shots, I effectively run a lot more efficiently and don't burn quite as much energy.  I'm a firm believer in them.  Following is what else I ingested, and when on race day for the Chicago Marathon ...

     Breakfast ... Banana, blue berries, steel cut oats, a little coconut water, very little regular water
     1/2 hour before the race ... Three 2.35oz Beet It Sport Shots
     Mile 8 ... GU Roctane Island Nectar gel w/caffeine
     Mile 12 ... Salt capsile
     Mile 15 ... GU Roctane Island Nectar gel w/caffeine
     Mile 17 (I think) ... Half banana
     Mile 22 ... GU Roctane Island Nectar gel w/caffeine

My GI track felt great throughout the race and I never really felt like I was running low on energy.  Quite the contrary, I felt incredibly strong and well loaded.  I just hit the wall at 25 & 26, I really don't think it had anything to do with pre or in-race nutrition.  It's possible that I could have been a little low on fluids.  I never drink anything the morning of a race to hopefully eliminate potty-stops, but rather load up the day before.  I do however, take fluids at every water stop, alternating Gatorade and water.

Good form for most of the race, back straight, head up, slight lean, lifting legs - not swinging, soft bent knee, forefoot/midfoot striking
(pictures from MarathonFoto)
The Race
I had a three primary time goals for the Chicago Marathon.  Goal #1 ... Finish the race!  Goal #2 ... Run under 3:20 for a new PR!  Goal #3 ... Run under 3:15 to qualify for the Boston Marathon again!  Anything under those three main goals would just be icing on the cake, and just cause for major celebration at our house!  I basically planned on using the first few miles as warm ups since there was really no room to do any light jogging or sprints before the race.  But I was also conscious of not leaving too much time on the clock.  Standing at the starting line my legs felt about as healthy and fresh as ever before a marathon.  I was afraid that I had lost a little fitness by tapering for what ended up being a hair over two weeks. But I decided that once I was up to speed, I was gonna keep my goal pace of just over 7:00 for as long as I could.

 Miles 1-5 average pace ... 7:39                                            
1)7:39          2)8:09         3)8:06         4)7:07         5)7:16
When the gun sounded, I couldn't believe how good my legs felt.  There absolutely NO ISSUES at all. No nagging right adductor.  No aching left glute.  No sore ankles or feet.  Nothing but adrenaline and good form.  I mean really good form.  Sunday at the Chicago Marathon was probably the best form I've ever held in a marathon.  I felt strong and fit and the first five miles flew by as I settled into the race.  I kept reigning myself in so I didn't go out too fast, but accidentally ran a 7:07 for mile 4.  But I really don't think the quicker pace for that one hurt my race at all.  I was just feelin' it!

Feeling strong mid-race (picture from MarathonFoto)
 Miles 6-10 average pace ... 7:11                                           
6)7:19        7)7:06         8)7:13        9)7:04          10)7:13 
I planned on picking up the tempo a little during the next five miles to between 7:10-7:15.  I kept losing
my Garmin GPS signal in the shadow of the downtown skyscrapers of the Chicago skyline, but when we occasionally came to an clearing in the buildings the display would flash 7:08'ish.  I knew I was in the neighborhood of where I wanted to be.  It just still felt so effortless, but I didn't want to push things yet.  I wanted to let the race just unfold, and at this point I was just really enjoying the great crowds and feeding off of their energy.

Since in most races I start so slow compared to my average pace, I spend a lot of time passing the same people who pass me in the first couple of miles.  Considering the large volume of runners at Chicago, this took a little more concentration than normal.  I tried to stay mostly on the right side of the course and took my water from the volunteers on the right, but occasionally I had to veer around a group of people to maintain my pace.  I ended up running 26.49 miles at Chicago.  The extra .29 miles was the only negative effect the crowd had on my race - just a little more dodging than normal.  But all in all I was able to maintain the pace I wanted all day without too much trouble.

 Miles 11-15 average pace ... 6:53                                          
11)6:54       12)6:57       13)6:50       14)6:57       15)6:49
At mile 11, I decided that if I was gonna do it, I needed to go ... now!  I really began to push the pace a little and I could tell I was beginning to work for the first time all day.  Not working like 10K pace or anything, but I really tried to find a gear and stay there for a while.  During this stretch we began to move away from downtown a little heading West.  There was a slight 8mph NNW breeze on Sunday, but I don't really ever remember it being a factor at all. As we moved away from the tall downtown structures, I began to get a more accurate display on my Garmin and I consistently noticed my pace at 6:45-6:60 which was a little to fast for me to hold for the remainder of the race.  So I continually throttled it back a little and felt pretty relaxed around 6:50-6:55, but obviously still working a little. For the first time in a marathon, I managed 5 miles below the 7:00 mark.  I was really happy with how good it felt and I knew I had a few more in me from that point.

 Miles 16-20 average pace ... 6:54                                         
 First 20 mile pace ... 7:10                                                                                                                                           
16)7:01       17)6:53       18)6:54      19)6:49       20)6:54
I tried not to do too much math to calculate potential finishing times while I ran on Sunday.  But I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind a couple times.  I knew if I could hold the current pace, I would probably come in around 3:05-3:10 ... which would have been amazing for me.  I use a couple key indicators for me in marathons as a mid-race assessment.  First, I try to grab a gel and carry in my left hand for a while at mile 16.  We all release stress in our hands and through our grip.  If I'm naturally gripping the gel too tightly and really working it over, it's a huge indicator that I've got a problem at that point.  On Sunday, I was barely squeezing the packet at all and felt pretty good considering I was running faster in a marathon than ever before.  I also usually do a mental "full body scan" at mile 18.  I can usually tell from that point how strong of a finish it's gonna be.  On Sunday, I felt pretty good but not great at mile 18, but believe me, I've felt a lot worse in races.  I still felt like I was in control of the pace and it wasn't beating me up at all.  I cruised past mile 20, really working, but ready to attack the last 6 miles.

 Miles 21-24 average pace ... 7:20                                          
21)6:57     22)7:12      23)7:32      24)7:40
The final six miles of a marathon are some of the toughest things I've ever done in sports.  If I'm in good shape, they aren't horrible, but if I'm not mentally and physically prepared for them, they can be a nightmare.  The first four miles after 20 weren't bad at all.  I was working hard, struggling from time to time, but I was in a good place mentally.  I had made up mind to fight ... and I was putting up a pretty good one.  21 and 22 felt pretty decent, but I felt my pace begin to slip a little at 23.  I wasn't really sore anywhere, just really fatigued.  I tried not to drink too much Gatorade to avoid stomach issues with the sugar, but I didn't feel like water was doing the trick.  Runners all around me were slowing at this point and everyone was grinding a little.  I was so proud of the way I battled on Sunday.  I was still running really fast (for me) that late in a race, but I was getting to the point where I wanted to be done.

The most mileage I had done in training was 24 miles a couple of times.  And after every marathon where I don't finish strong, I always tell myself that during the next training cycle I'm gonna do 28 a couple of times to get my body used to those last miles.  But I never seem to do it.  If we could have stopped the race at 23 or 24, it would have been a huge PR and great race for me ... but unfortunately there were two more miles ... and that's where the wheels began to wobble.

Form really breaking down during last few miles - head down, straight front leg & heel striking a little, bent a little at the waist
(pictures from MarathonFoto)

 Miles 25 & 26 average pace ... 9:09                               
25)9:03     26)9:14
When I took my last fluids at mile 25, I knew I had a huge problem on my hands.   My legs weren't cramping, just a little heavy from the lactic acid build up, but I was beginning really push myself to even keep running.  This is point in most races where if there's not a PR involved, I'll just "heck with it" and walk for a while.  But I didn't want to be a quitter on Sunday.  I pushed and pushed and kept up at just under 8:00 until I hit about 24.5 where for the first time all I day I had to pull of and walk for a few seconds.  I hadn't walked through any of the water stops.  Hadn't stopped to used the porto-potties.  And didn't have to tie my shoe.  But for a few seconds, I felt like I was gonna puke and was forced to walk.  Looking at my Garmin, I think I literally only walked for about 10-15 seconds until I started picking up the pace again.  But for the next mile and a half, I walked about 4 more times, and my pace slowed immensely.

I've heard a lot of people talk about the final little hill just before you hit mile 26.  It's in a bad spot because the course is pancake flat until that little speed bump.  It's literally only about 15 feet tall and only stretches a little less than .2 miles.  It really didn't bother me at all on Sunday.  In fact once I hit it, I knew I only had a few more feet until I was done.

As I made my final turn onto Columbus Drive, I looked at my overall time on my Garmin ... it had just passed 3:14:00.  I could see the finish line and knew that if I could give one last kick I might come in under a BQ.  I'm turning 45 years old in December and will move into another age group, so it was important to me to take this one last shot at the 40-44 qualifying time, even though if I ran Boston as a 45 year old I would only need 3:20.  But 3:15 was huge deal for my ego - ha.  So I did my best impersonation of a sprint over that last few hundred meters and came in just under the BQ time at 3:14:48!  I was so excited!!!  I had met all three of my goals, and ran my best marathon ever, and qualified for the Boston Marathon for a 4th time ... by 12 seconds.

Lessons Learned
I know if I would haven't have crashed a bit those last two miles, and accumulated that extra .29 because of the runner traffic, I would have probably finished around 3:08'ish.  But looking back on the race I couldn't be more satisfied.  It gave me a fresh new perspective of what I'm capable of in a marathon, and a brand new confidence that more is out there for me at this distance!

I really lightened my overall work load this year mileage-wise, and it think it gave me fresher, and certainly healthier legs for my fall races.  For the most part, my mileage for each week was only in the mid 60's, with my biggest week only being at 75.  But the Chicago Marathon was my 5th different PR so far in 2013, and I've never felt stronger or faster.  I think the lighter work load had a lot to do with it.  Also being lighter weight and healthier from a diet stand point really helped me too.  I never really struggled for energy or felt overweight for most of my summer workouts.  The good diet contributed heavily to that.

As far as long training runs go, they are still a bit of a work in progress.  I made huge strides this summer by spending MORE time at my marathon pace as opposed to LESS like some would suggest.  I have no doubt that if I continue to stretch myself out a little on long runs, and also work in more miles at my marathon pace, I can take off another chunk of time in upcoming races.  Who knows, maybe my goal of sub 3:00 is still doable.  For now though, I'm gonna enjoy 3:14:48 for a while.  It was a really great race for me.
... be great today!


  1. I'm super impressed. As I read your blog, I keep thinking to myself "can I get that fast one day?" Not sure if it will ever happen, but you have some great tips for me to try.

    Thanks for posting this!

    1. The answer to that is of course ... "YES!!!" You are the impressive one my friend. You've grown leaps and bounds and just continue to improve every day - your last marathon was awesome!

  2. I love all the details you give in this post. I'm a very slow runner compared to you but I still use similar details to analyze my races and training. Really awesome Jim!

  3. Hi Jim! This may be only my second time commenting, but...fantastic report and congratulations on a wonderful time!! You really nailed it.

    Just wanted to note on the "improvements" bit. Have you read the Hansons' marathon training philosophy? They are of the opinion that you dont need more than a 16 mile long run for the marathon, with a mid week 14 miler with 10 mile tempo at MP. While I dont necessarily fully agree with their method, I understand the concept. I ran a similar time to you with only 2-3 long runs in the 18-20 mile mark. The biggest thing with my marathon training (and the Hansons method) was developing CUMULATIVE fatigue. There is so much literature showing that runs over 20 miles just put you at great risk of injury, with no real fitness benefits. I would consider, instead of 23+ miles, perhaps doing a recovery jog later in the day after a 20 miler, or the next morning, to develop that fatigue, without the risk of injury.

    Anyway, thats all for next time. Right now, enjoy that victory - thats an amazing time.

  4. From analyzing the data, it seems that you hit the proverbial "wall" somewhere around mile 24. I say just focus on those last few miles.

  5. Congratulations on the race, the PR, the BQ, and just overall in executing a smart race. You are growing as a runner and I am proud of you!

    Now as I am the most blunt person ever and feel like I can be honest with you....I think a 28 mile training run (x2?) is pretty much the dumbest thing I have ever heard. I think you would benefit much more from doing progressive long runs. Start easy and finish the last 4-8 miles fast starting at MP and finishing at 10k pace. I've broken 3 hours twice (I do promise I realize all runners are different) and I have never ran more than 18.5 miles in training. With that said almost every LR I do includes quality miles.

    Feel free to take whatever I say with a grain of salt because I am absolutely no expert. Just throwing out some honest opinions. :)

    Now forget my crap and celebrate your race. Woohoo!

  6. Ok, I am a total idiot. I just had a head slapper moment reading your form analysis......legs lifted not swinging....OMG! That is EXACTLY what I'm doing wrong. I just went out and concentrated on lifting my legs and ran 9:50's consistently over 4 hilly miles. What. A. Dope. I. Have. Been. No wonder that darn Oprah is still beating me!

    Despite those 2 miles, you still killed it and I'm seriously impressed. But I think 28 milers are asking for injury. I know I am not even close to an expert but I think it's worth considering topping out at 17-18 milers at race pace on tired legs along the lines of a Hanson method.

    Congratulations on a great race! You were definitely great that day!

  7. All that tweaking you've done to your training - from the diet to the core strength to the actual running - has made such a dramatic difference. It's been really exciting to read about how much you've improved.

  8. Congrats on the BQ and running a great race. It was a great day for a marathon!

  9. I just read all three of your Chicago posts in one sitting, every word, and am just so happy for you. The fact that you hit that Wall in mile 24 and STILL got your A goal is very impressive. I'm really happy for you, and I hope we can meet in Colorado next year when you guys are out here for some altitude training (not that you need it). Then again in Boston i 2015 (I hope!)....Congratulations! (And thank you for the kind words on my post.)


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